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Entertaining with Wine at a Dinner Party

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When hosting a dinner party, you probably serve more wines than you would during a normal dinner. Instead of just one wine throughout the meal, you may want to serve a different wine with every course. Many people serve two wines at the table: a white wine with the first course and a red wine with the entrée.

Because you want every wine to taste even better than the one before it — besides blending perfectly with the food you’re serving — you should give some thought to the sequence in which the wines will be served. The classic guidelines are the following:

  • White wine before red wine

  • Light wine before heavy wine

  • Dry wine before sweet wine

  • Simple wine before complex, richly flavored wine

Each of these principles operates independently. A very light red wine served before a rich, full-bodied white can work just fine. If the food you’re serving calls for white wine, there’s really no reason that both wines can’t be white: a simpler, lighter white first and a richer, fuller-bodied white second. Likewise, both wines can be red, or you can serve a dry rosé followed by a red.

[Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/berekin]
Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/berekin

Serving wine before dinner

Even if you don’t plan to serve hors d’oeuvres, you probably want to offer your guests a drink when they arrive to set a relaxing tone for the evening.

Try serving Champagne as the apéritif because opening the bottle of Champagne is a ceremony that brings together everyone in the group. Champagne honors your guests. And a glass of Champagne is compelling enough that to spend a thoughtful moment tasting it doesn’t seem rude; even people who think it’s absurd to talk about wine understand that Champagne is too special to be ignored. Also, Champagne is complex enough that it stands alone just fine, without food.

How much wine is enough?

The necessary quantity of each wine depends on all sorts of issues, including:

  • The number of wines you serve (the more wines, the less you need of each)

  • The pace of service (if you plan a long, leisurely meal, you need more of each wine)

  • The size of your wine glasses (if you’re using oversized glasses, you need more of each wine)

Assuming a full-blown dinner that includes an apéritif wine, two wines with dinner, and another with cheese — and guests who all drink moderately — plan to have one bottle of each wine for every four people. That gives each person four ounces of each wine, with plenty left over in the 25-ounce bottle for refills. When serving two wines, plan one bottle of each wine per couple.

A simpler rule is to figure, in total, a full bottle of wine per guest (total consumption). That quantity may sound high, but if your dinner is spread over several hours and you’re serving a lot of food, it really isn’t immoderate. If you’re concerned that your guests may overindulge, be sure that their water glasses are always full so they have an alternative to automatically reaching for the wine.

If your dinner party is special enough to have several food courses and several wines, consider giving each guest a separate glass for each wine. The glasses can be different for each wine, or they can be alike. With a separate glass for each wine, no guest feels compelled to empty each glass before going on to the next wine.


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